President Obama traveled to West Point 18 months ago to redefine the American strategy in Afghanistan and explain why he would dispatch an additional 30,000 troops there, to a total of 100,000. “These are the resources that we need to seize the initiative, while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan,” Obama explained.
It was a lengthy speech in which the president emphasized that his strategy was more regional, and included a heavy emphasis on cooperation with Pakistan. Here is the most succinct description the president gave the cadets:
These are the three core elements of our strategy: a military effort to create the conditions for a transition; a civilian surge that reinforces positive action; and an effective partnership with Pakistan.
The president said that “after 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.”
It’s been 18 months, and tomorrow night the president will explain to the nation what “begin to come home” means. The most aggressive scenario seems to be 30,000 troops would return by the end of 2012, meaning 70,000 would still be there.
Some pretty smart people have made some pretty convincing arguments that the military effort has not made much headway in terms of creating the conditions for a transition, and the civilian surge is not “reinforcing positive action.”
Mark Thompson recently flagged Tom Barnett’s post that includes the noted, “The longer we stay, the more we’ll infantilize the system. Ten years in and virtually everything we’ve set about to create is still described as ‘fragile’ – meaning it collapses and disappears the minute we pull out.”
If bribing the villagers and spending billions on dubious training programs fails to produce security, COIN advocates answer that we need more troops and money. They will not admit the possibility that the medicine does not work…We are neglecting the political factors and following a “strategy of tactics” that will inexorably lead to an unnecessary, self-inflicted defeat.
Meanwhile, calling the U.S. relationship with Pakistan “effective” at this point feels like a stretch. Relations between the two nations have mostly deteriorated over the past 18 months. Pakistan is still stinging from the whole Bin Laden operation, which we kept them in the dark about. Their security forces apparently tip off rather than kill bomb makers. They arrested one of our operatives and apparently our informants. The list goes on and on.
Obama told America 18 months ago that he had devised the right strategy to succeed in Afghanistan, had provided the appropriate resources for that mission, and he set a timetable for it to work — 18 months — so troops can begin coming home.
I remember talking to a source at the U.S. Central Command 18 months ago. I asked him what the new strategy was in Afghanistan. He replied, “Send in more troops. Kill a lot of people. Declare victory. Leave.”
Was he right?